The effects of living with scoliosis can be different for each person; not everyone experiences the same side effects and symptoms from scoliosis. In some cases of scoliosis, there are no obvious symptoms or problems.
Scoliosis can sometimes be associated with headaches, neck pain, back pain, and hip, knee, or leg pain. Radicular (nerve) pain is also more common in people with scoliosis. Scoliosis can contribute to problems with breathing or sleeping. Some patients with scoliosis may experience problems with digestion. It may also be associated with irregularities in the menstrual cycles of females.
Scoliosis can cause limitations and difficulties with daily activities, such as walking, lifting, and exercising. These problems tend to show up later in life, particularly with more severe cases. However, even mild cases of scoliosis can reduce the body’s ability to perform at its full athletic potential.
Scoliosis also has effects upon posture and the symmetrical appearance of the body. Some cases of scoliosis can lead to imbalances in the appearance of the shoulders, hips, shoulder blades, and ribs. The space between the arm on one side of the body may appear larger compared to the opposite side, and the head, torso, and pelvis may appear shifted relative to one another. It is also common for people with scoliosis to exhibit a forward shift in the alignment of their head and neck when viewed from the side.
Scoliosis can create problems with balance - particularly when the eyes are closed. Scoliosis has also been shown to be associated with low bone density (osteopenia and osteoporosis). These two facts combined can mean that people living with scoliosis are at a greater risk for falls and fractures as they age.
If scoliosis has existed for a long time, it can lead to osteoarthritis and degenerative changes in the spine, hips, and knees. In severe cases of scoliosis, the function of the organs can be affected.
The CLEAR Scoliosis Institute Non-Profit recently conducted a Practice-Based Research study over the 2014 calendar year to determine the side effects of CLEAR scoliosis treatment. In this study, surveys were provided to patients after 3,198 unique visits to record any possible side effects from care. 95% of patients reported feeling the same or better after treatment. The most common side effect was muscle soreness - much like you get after a good workout in the gym. There were no serious side effects reported by any patient at any of the participating clinics, throughout the entire year.
The potential side effects of wearing a scoliosis brace have been documented to include depressed mood and reduced quality of life, increased stress, lowered self-esteem, family strife, and limitations in physical activity, decreased spinal flexibility (and thus potential surgical correction), social anxiety and isolation, negative body image and psychological distress, and pain and pressure sores. Some adolescents find the experience so psychologically damaging that they discontinue wearing their brace.
Bracing can be effective in preventing a case of scoliosis from getting worse, but only if it is worn for at least 16 hours every day. There are some concerns that wearing certain types of braces for long periods of time can immobilize the spine and the muscles, accelerating the process of disc degeneration and causing muscle atrophy and weakness.
There are many different types of scoliosis surgery. Most involve replacing the spinal discs with bone chips harvested from the hip, and using a combination of rods, hooks, and screws to hold the spine in place while it fuses solid. This can lead to a permanent decrease in spinal flexibility and ranges of motion. Sometimes, additional re-operations are necessary if the spine doesn’t fuse properly. The most common side effect of scoliosis surgery is wound infection. Neurological deficits are rare, but serious. Overall, the mortality rate of scoliosis surgery is very low. For more information, please refer to Rates of complications in scoliosis surgery, or To operate or not - a debate article.